John “Johnny” Chapman was born September 26, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts.
His father fought as a Minuteman at Concord before serving in the Continental Army under George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.
Then while his father was away fighting the war in 1776, his mother died July 18, 1776 shortly after giving birth to a brother. Then the baby boy died a couple weeks later.
When his father came home after the war in 1780, he married Lucy Cooley of Springfield, Massachusetts and together they would have another ten children.
By 1792, the dream of heading west persuaded John and a half brother to strike out on their own.
The brothers apparently lived a nomadic life.
There are stories of Johnny working at an apple orchard in the Wilkes-Barre area and of picking seeds from the pomace at Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s.
Another story has Johnny living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Grant’s Hill in 1794 at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion.
Eventually, Johnny settled in Ohio and became an apprentice for a Mr. Crawford who owned apple orchards.
In 1805, their father and his large family joined them in Ohio.
Although apples grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack.
In some parts of the Midwest, settlers were required by law to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land.
So Johnny began planting apple orchards that made for popular real estate on the frontier, and the legend of Johnny Appleseed was born.
The popular image of Johnny Appleseed is of his spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went.
In fact, Johnny planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery.
The first known nursery Johnny planted was on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, South of Warren, Pennsylvania.
Next, he seems to have moved to Venango County along the shore of French Creek, but many of these nurseries were located in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio.
This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lucas, Perrysville, and Loudonville.
His extensive planting of apple trees in much of the young United States should be viewed in the context that apples and pears are not native to the Americas and were introduced by European settlers.
Soon, Johnny and his kind, generous ways, introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and northern counties of present day West Virginia.
Johnny Appleseed was also a missionary, and became an American legend while still alive, both for his leadership in conservation and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples.
Still today, there is some controversy and vagueness concerning the date of his death and his burial.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of November, 1871 (which is taken by many as the primary source of information about John Chapman) says he died in the summer of 1847.
The Fort Wayne Sentinel, however, printed his obituary on March 22, 1845, saying that he died on March 18:
“On the same day in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed).
He died of testicular cancer. The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years. He was a native of Pennsylvania we understand but his home—if home he had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland, where he has relatives living. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life—not so much perhaps for avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects. He was a follower of Swedenborg and devoutly believed that the more he endured in this world the less he would have to suffer and the greater would be his happiness hereafter—he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter.
In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. “He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration.
His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.”
The actual site of his grave is disputed as well.
Developers of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course claim his grave is there, marked by a rock at the old Worth cabin in which Johnny Appleseed died.
However, Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes another putative gravesite, located in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne,is the correct site.
Johnny Appleseed Park is a Fort Wayne, IN city park which adjoins Archer Park, an Allen County park. Archer Park is the site of John Chapman’s gravemarker and formerly was a part of the family Archer farm.
However, the Worth family attended First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, according to records at ACPL, which has one of the nation’s top genealogy collections. According to an 1858 interview with Richard Worth Jr., Chapman was buried “respectably” in the Archer cemetery, and Fortriede believes use of the term “respectably” indicates Chapman was buried in the hallowed ground of Archer cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.
Then John H. Archer, grandson of David Archer, wrote in a letter dated October 4, 1900:
The historical account of his death and burial by the Worths and their neighbors, the Pettits, Goinges, Porters, Notestems, Parkers, Beckets, Whitesides, Pechons, Hatfields, Parrants, Ballards, Randsells, and the Archers in David Archer’s private burial grounds is substantially correct. The grave, more especially the common head-boards used in those days, have long since decayed and become entirely obliterated, and at this time I do not think that any person could with any degree of certainty come within fifty feet of pointing out the location of his grave. Suffice it to say that he has been gathered in with his neighbors and friends, as I have enumerated, for the majority of them lie in David Archer’s graveyard with him.
The Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, “as a part of the celebration of Indiana’s 100th birthday in 1916 an iron fence was placed in the Archer graveyard by the Horticulture Society of Indiana setting off the grave of Johnny Appleseed.
Today his birthplace also has a granite marker, and the street is called Johnny Appleseed Lane.
Now WE know em